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US pipeline disruption leads refineries to reserve vessels for storage

By Ron Bousso and Laura Sanicola

LONDON / NEW YORK (Reuters) – Refineries booked at least five oil tankers to store gasoline off the US Gulf of Mexico coast after the cyberattack that paralyzed the largest US oil pipeline, according to shipping sources and data.

The attack on the Colonial pipeline network, which supplies half of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, has forced refineries on the Gulf of Mexico coast to reduce their operations due to lack of storage space. North Carolina lifted fuel transportation restrictions to combat a gasoline shortage.

The tankers, contracted by Marathon Petroleum, Valero Energy, Phillips 66 and PBF Energy, have capacity for some 350,000 tons of fuel. Two of them were reserved for up to a month and three were tentative reservations that could be canceled, according to data and sources in the marine broker industry.

Colonial closed on Friday its 8,850-kilometer pipeline network, which carries fuels such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, to protect its systems. It has put some smaller lines back into operation.

In the wake of the outage, operators also booked several tankers to ship gasoline and diesel from Europe to the east coast of the United States.

The French Total and the trading companies Vitol and Trafigura each reserved 90,000 tonnes of tankers to transport diesel by the transatlantic route, according to maritime transport data, a relatively infrequent route, since Europe consumes more diesel than it produces.

Several refineries on the Gulf of Mexico coast that depend on Colonial for their shipments have reduced their production. Total and Motiva Enterprises cut production at their refineries in Port Arthur, Texas and Citgo Petroleum cut production at its plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana, sources told Reuters on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Ron Bousso and Jonathan Saul in London, Laura Sanicola in New York; Edited in Spanish by Tomás Cobos and Ricardo Figueroa)

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